The Jacket is an all-too-conventional oddity. Too self-conscious to be truly special, the film feels like it’s always on the verge of something better than what it amounts to. It stays disappointingly grounded by self-imposed limitations.
As the film opens, Jack Starks (Oscar-winner Adrien Brody) is entrenched in Gulf War combat. Through a series of night vision shots (and heavy editing) we’re introduced to him as he tries to maintain a sense of order with some Iraqi hostiles. Dropping his guard for a moment while trying to calm the situation down, Jack is shot down with a bullet to the brain and pronounced dead by Army doctors. That is, until he opens his eyes again.
A year later Jack is home, walking and hitchhiking his way through Vermont. He’s still disturbed by flashes of the incident but is physically recovered. Along his journey he becomes involved in two events that would change his life.
In the first, Jack stumbles across a woman and her child along the side of the road. Their car has broken down and the mother is in a terrible condition, drunk to the point that she’s incoherent and vomiting.
Apparently a knowledgeable mechanic, Jack fixes the truck and befriends the little girl before the mother ungratefully sends him on his way. But before she does, Jack gives his dog tags to the little girl who asks for them.
A few miles down the road, Jack finally manages to hitch a ride. The car is soon pulled over by a cop and the driver opens fire. The cop is killed, Jack is knocked unconscious and the driver flees, leaving Jack to take the blame.
Suffering from partial amnesia and Gulf War Syndrome, the courts find Jack not guilty by reasons of insanity and has him committed instead. At the institution, Jack becomes the guinea pig of an untested experiment that cantankerous Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) employs.
The experiment hopes to accomplish reducing violent outbursts, but how it’s supposed to do that isn’t covered. Especially when the ‘experiment’ is nothing more than locking up the criminally insane in a straight jacket, shooting them full of sedatives and shoving them in a morgue drawer.
Inside, Jack starts experiencing quick lightning bolt-like shots of his past and has hallucinatory visions of the future. Those visions show Jack meeting Jackie (Keira Knightley), the little girl on the side of the road now 15 years later. Her mother is deceased and she’s working a dead-end job at a local diner.
When she claims that Jack Starks died in 1993 – four days from when Jack’s currently living – it propels the film into a race to avoid fate where Jack has to rely on his trips to the future and Jackie to give him hints about how to evade death.
Time travel is a key component of the film, but the only ‘future’ we see is an indistinguishable 2007. And by placing the story in 1992, it has very lazy goals of showing the future without showing any changes. Even worse, the entire course of the future is confined to the girl, the café she works in and a few select asylum employees.
Adrien Brody handles the range of emotions from comatose patient to spastic paranoia well enough, and Keira Knightley’s role is her most challenging to date – even dropping her English accent in the process – but there’s nothing here to elevate the film above the serviceable psychological thriller it aims to be.
It’s a case of missed opportunities, a film content to be middling while bordering on something more.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.